WHO LOST VERMONT?|
by Marty Jezer
That's the question that a Vermont writer named Geoffrey Norman asks in the June 26th issue of The Weekly Standard, Rupert Murdoch's national right-wing political weekly. The cover of the magazine depicts a Vermont scene in autumn, but inside the publication, Mr. Norman is somber and angry.
Geoffrey Norman, a resident of Dorset, doesn't like what's going on in Vermont. Civil unions! Act 60! Dr. Dinosaur (low- cost, state-run health insurance for children)! Health insurance laws that prohibit insurance companies from "cherry-picking" customers (i.e., forbids them from denying coverage to Vermonters who might actually need medical treatment). A Socialist Congressman. A governor who is "captive of the teachers." A "soaking wet Republican" (I don't know what the means, but that is what he calls Jim Jeffords). Arrogant judges! "Vermont has become unmoored from its traditions and is drifting, derelict," he moans. Woe! Woe! We're too much like Canada when we should be more like New Hampshire.
This is a big-time put-down. The Weekly Standard describes itself as "America's premier political weekly -- the most talked about, most quoted and most influential magazine in Washington." The editor, William Kristol, was Dan Quayle's chief political advisor, so we know that it's edited with intelligence and wit. When right-wing movers and shakers want to know what's happening in the country, they read The Weekly Standard, The Weekly Standard boasts. And this is what they are reading about Vermont.
Mr. Norman tells us that he moved to Vermont in 1979 with an idyllic image of Vermont based on his knowledge of Ethan Allen, Calvin Coolidge, and George Aiken.
He describes Ethan Allen as a Green Mountain Boy, demanding the surrender of the British on Lake Champlain. Fair enough. But what Mr. Norman doesn't tell us about Ethan Allen is that Allen was a freethinking atheist who would have been appalled by The Weekly Standard with its pandering to the homophobia of the religious right.
Mr. Norman likes President Coolidge because, unlike Bill Clinton whom he hates, Coolidge took afternoon naps and kept quiet. But what Norman doesn't tell us was that while Silent Cal was napping, the KKK was nightriding, the Mob was shooting up our cities, and the unregulated free market was spinning out of control. Less than a year after Coolidge retired, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Calvin Coolidge was neither a great President nor a great Vermonter.
Senator George Aiken WAS a great Senator, but not only for the reasons Norman admires. Aiken, Norman writes, "believed in balanced budgets and limited government....His was a Yankee frugality carried almost to a point of caricature." What Norman doesn't tell us is that Senator Aiken supported many programs of Roosevelt's New Deal. He fought private utilities in behalf of public power and spoke out against the Vietnam War. George Aiken was no right-winger. He was a pragmatic moderate who vowed "never to oppose any measure calculated to relieve human distress ... simply because those measures are educated by another party."
One of the characteristics of right-wingers is that they declaim ideology and then invent "facts" to support it. The public records of Ethan Allen and George Aiken are distorted to fit the right-wing definition of "good Vermonters." In an even more flagrant disregard for truth, Norman falsifies basic facts about the Vermont Supreme Court because he doesn't like its support for civil unions and educational opportunity. Doesn't The Weekly Standard have a fact checker?
This is what Norman writes (and all across America right- wingers are reading) about Vermont's highest court:
The five supreme court justices are all career government lawyers who couldn't get elected dogcatcher at most town meetings. To get even, they issue arrogant decisions....
As most Vermonters know, the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court is Jeffrey Amestoy, a Republican who, before he became chief justice, was elected Attorney-General seven times. What right-wingers read in The Weekly Standard is that he couldn't get elected dogcatcher, but Amestoy was Attorney-General from 1985 to 1997 -- all the while Norman was living, and presumably voting, in Dorset.
So who lost Vermont? You can't lose what you never had, but Geoffrey Norman and the Weekly Standard presume that our state was something that, ideologically-speaking, the right-wing owned.
The Vermont tradition is one of caring and tolerance. Our forbearers responded to the U.S. Constitution by demanding a Bill of Rights. Against slavery, we demanded abolition. Against states rights and secession, we fought for Union. It's true, that until the early 1960s, Vermont was Republican. But it was not the Republicanism of Geoffrey Norman, Bill Kristol, Dan Quayle, or (for that matter) Ruth Dwyer.
In our mountainous state where winters can be brutal, we have to trust our neighbors; we depend on them. Mud-season, like winter, enforces a rough equality and a mutual respect for all who get through it. Vermonters know that we don't have to agree with the politics or religious beliefs of our neighbors, nor be overly concerned about their lifestyle or whom they sleep with. All that counts is that we come through for one another -- and we usually do. Vermont has a tradition for free-thinking tolerance that goes back to our first flatlander, Ethan Allen.
Thanks to Geoffrey Norman and The Weekly Standard, right- wingers all across the country probably think that Vermont once belonged to them and now we're going to pot. But we're not. We've lost nothing. Our tradition for tolerance and enlightened legislation grows. Not to sound arrogant, but the rest of the country would do well to take lessons in civics from us.
Marty Jezer is a free-lance writer who lives in Brattleboro. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (C) 2000, Marty Jezer